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NIGERIA

Nigeria votes for president amid Boko Haram attacks

Nigeria Elections: A cross-section of voters in Kano, 23 March 2019
Nigeria Elections: A cross-section of voters in Kano, 23 March 2019 RFIHAUSA/Abubakar Isa Dandago

As Nigeria's presidential elections went under way Saturday morning, an attack by Islamist group Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria left at least one soldier dead and 20 others injured.

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Nigerians began voting for a new president on Saturday, after a week-long delay that has raised political tempers, sparked conspiracy claims and stoked fears of violence.

Outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler is seeking re-election in a crowded 2019 campaign that has more than 70 presidential hopefuls, including the main opposition party candidate, Atiku Abubakar.

Abubakar is a pro-business free marketeer whose main pledges have been to privatise giant state-run companies and float the embattled naira currency.

Results are expected from early next week, with the winner gaining control of Africa's most populous nation and leading oil producer for four years.

The elections will also determine 360 members of the House of Representatives and 109 senators from a choice of 6,500 candidates.

Nigeria: Objects that exploded at Teachers Village IDP camp in Maiduguri, Borno State. 23/2/2019.
Nigeria: Objects that exploded at Teachers Village IDP camp in Maiduguri, Borno State. 23/2/2019. RFIHAUSA/Bilyaminu Yusuf

Polls marred by Boko Haram attacks

Shortly before polls opened, a series of blasts rocked the northeastern city of Maiduguri, which has been repeatedly hit by Boko Haram Islamists.

Security sources also reported attacks in Auno, 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of the city, and in Geidam, in neighbouring Yobe state.

Outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari casts his vote in Daura, Nigeria, 23 February 2019
Outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari casts his vote in Daura, Nigeria, 23 February 2019 REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Election delay sparks fraud accusations

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) last Saturday announced a one-week delay to the election, just hours before it was due to get under way.

That angered voters who had already travelled to their hometowns and villages to participate, and saw the main parties accuse each other of conspiring with the INEC to rig the result.

Nigeria Elections: A cross-section of voters in Lagos
Nigeria Elections: A cross-section of voters in Lagos RFIHAUSA

Be 'ruthless' with vote-riggers, says Buhari

INEC's logistical fine-tuning has been overshadowed by comments from President Buhari that he had ordered security forces to be "ruthless" with vote-riggers and ballot-box snatchers.

Critics said his warning was a "licence to kill" to the police and the military, while Abubakar said his comments were not fitting for an elected head of state.

Former military ruler Buhari has since sought to reassure voters not to be afraid, promising an "atmosphere of openness and peace, devoid of fear from threat or intimidation".

In 2015, Buhari became the first opposition candidate in Nigerian history to defeat a sitting president, beating Goodluck Jonathan by 2.5 million votes.

Buhari has again vowed to be tough on insecurity and corruption, and wants to complete much-needed road and rail infrastructure projects, as well as social mobility schemes.

Nigerian elections have previously been characterised by voting along ethnic and religious lines.

But with Buhari and Abubakar both northern Muslims, that could split the northern vote, making southern states a key battleground.

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